Barriers for physical activity and leisure participation among refugees in Australia

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Komla Lokpo, research assistant

Sanctuary Australia Foundation has partnered with Western Sydney University to deliver a project in Coffs Harbour that has the aim of evaluating the factors that influence the patterns of physical activity and leisure participation among ex-refugees settled in the region. The project also intends to identify how these factors might be related to the mental health and well being of refugee migrants.

Dr. Arianne Reis

Dr. Arianne Reis

The project was initially proposed to Sanctuary Australia Foundation by Dr. Arianne Reis, Senior Lecturer in the School of Science and Health, Western Sydney University, and also an Adjunct Research Fellow with the School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University, based at Coffs Harbour campus. Dr. Arianne Reis, who is originally from Brazil, has focused her research work largely on issues related to social and environmental justice in the context of physical activity and leisure participation. She says: “It is well established in the literature, and a consensus in the medical community, that physical activity participation plays a significant role in contributing to health and wellbeing. Significantly, leisure-time physical activity, such as involvement in sports, dance, and outdoor recreation, has been shown to contribute to improved mental health and to serve important social functions, such as expanding social networks and bonds, improving social cohesion and nurturing deep cultural meanings. In this sense, it is surprising that research on refugee engagement in leisure-time physical activity is still scant, given the well-known mental health issues associated with forced migration, displacement, and re-settlement in a foreign country. This research project aims to contribute to filling this gap.”

To achieve this ambitious aim, Dr. Reis contacted Sanctuary Australia Foundation for their support and partnership and has received more than she expected. “The knowledge and incredible generosity of those who work at the Sanctuary Australia Foundation has been just mind-blowing”. Peter Hallam, CEO of the charity that will complete 30 years of refugee settlement work in the region next year, affirms the partnership. ‘This partnership is helping us to determine what long-term health needs exist in the local refugee population so that we are able to create targeted programs for migrants on the Coffs Coast.’

The project, which is being funded by Western Sydney University, has employed a member of the local refugee community, Mr. Komla Lokpo, to work as a research assistant. Mr. Lokpo’s contribution to the project has already been significant: “Komla is an incredibly dedicated and competent worker, well-connected with the entire refugee community of Coffs Harbour. He has made our job so much easier already.” Two focus groups have been conducted with 20 members of the local refugee community and more than 100 participants have taken part in the survey. Participants received compensation, including vouchers for groceries for their contributions to the project.

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